ELLSWORTH -- The new Pierce County jail project is raising questions about the future of security within the courthouse building in Ellsworth.
When the new $18 million facility opens and the sheriff’s department moves, court proceedings will still happen in the 111-year-old historic landmark courthouse. People jailed up the road on Highway 65 and Overlook Drive will have to be transported to hearings -- and officials are weighing cost-estimates, which are still undetermined, for the possible deputies’ back-and-forth trips, along with monitoring the day-to-day foot traffic.
“Security needs for the courthouse is a number one priority,” Supervisor Dan Reis of Ellsworth told the County Board last week. As the overseer of the county’s Buildings Committee, Reis said the question has been bounced around since the prospect of a new jail building was floated.
“If we’re going to spend money, are we talking $1 million, $5 million -- what?” Reis said.
Reis asked more questions than provided answers during the board’s June 28 meeting, but the entire board and its Building Committee will continue the conversation in upcoming months.
The good news is inmates will no longer have to be housed in other counties and transported here because of the new space -- an expense Pierce County has shouldered in past years.
The new jail building will house a 16,565-square-foot 80-bed jail pod with potential to expand to 120 beds, a 15,347-square-foot administration area, 16,869-square-foot sheriff’s department and a 3,908-square-foot lobby, plus mechanical and electrical spaces. Shovels broke ground March 24 at the now-fenced off site. The facility is expected to open next summer.
The space being vacated is also up for grabs. In March, Merlin Blaisdell from the Pierce County Food Pantry pitched the idea of moving that nonprofit from Ellsworth Village Hall to the open space. Building Committee members said they supported the group but, with so much up in the air with the jail project, couldn’t commit to anything.